The Price of Being Honest

Every good idea I ever had, I stole from someone else.

It’s a truism I made up and recited time and time again over the years to student writers. The idea is that every idea is not original, but is a synthesis of what you see and hear and experience every day of your life.

Sometimes it’s even more literal than that. Such as something my fellow editor Tim Lale told me years ago.

He challenged me to pursue “honest” writing. Honest. I mulled over that word for years. What did that mean? Today I ask my students to consider it as well, and I suspect that it means different things to different writers. But at its core, it challenges us to pull back the facade and take a hard look at what is going on the machinations of this real world. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…well, maybe it’s time we did.

tellthetruthAs a college professor for the past 19 years, I’ve been privileged to watch students go through what I call the “lightbulb moment,” that point in their college careers when they realize that what they are to become actually depends on them. It usually happens around their junior year. I have a senior journalism major who has suddenly caught fire, and in his honor, I created a logo to symbolize an attitude I wanted to promote on campus: Tell The Truth.

The idea is that it’s easy to be caught up in platitudes and saying the politically correct answer. We encourage students, faculty and staff to tell the truth.

But telling the truth–being honest–isn’t really as easy as it sounds. We are habitual liars, and research has shown that people lie constantly, with statistics varying from 1.58 average per day to several times per hour, depending on what constitutes a lie.

In addition, we lie to ourselves constantly. It’s what helps us get through our day. This is a lot of the reason why we are eager to find out bad things about other people; by doing so, we can feel better about our own behavior.

But if we decide to be honest–in our writing, in our interaction with others, in our daily lives–it puts in a position where not only can we help people by talking about things that are meaningful, we are put in a position of helping ourselves. When we look at ourselves in a mirror, naked, honest about all our flaws, we are far less willing to criticize others and more willing to grow and learn and depend on God to be a better person. It makes my writing more interesting, because I am willing to be real, vulnerable.

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” is what the Bible says. That means everybody. If Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, then we need to think about what truth is worth telling. That is, if we are being honest.